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In many parts of the world, seeing a shooting star is regarded as an auspicious omen; it is said that your wish, or whatever it is you’re thinking when you see a shooting star, will come true. There’s doesn’t seem to be any scientific basis behind this belief, but it’s still quite a popular notion. Thanks to popular culture, which further promotes this belief whenever possible, you will almost certainly find yourself staring up at the sky during a camping trip in the hopes of spotting a shooting star.
What we all know as “shooting stars” are actually associated with meteor showers. Before you can understand what a meteor shower is, you first have to understand what meteors are.
A meteor, commonly referred to as a shooting star, is an asteroid, a comet, or a meteoroid (or some part of these objects) that passes through the atmosphere of Earth. (For more info, check out: What is the Difference Between Asteroids, Meteors and Meteorites).
A meteor shower is simply an event when a considerable number of meteors are seen to originate or radiate from a point in the sky. Therefore, in order to observe a shooting star, the best thing you can do is look for a meteor shower.
How can you maximize your chances of seeing a shooting star?
Let me make this very clear from the start: there is no guaranteed method to get a nice visual of a shooting star while still standing on Earth. If you’re still adamant about seeing a shooting star on purpose (although most people just stumble into seeing one!), here are a few things to keep in mind.
The Right Spot
If you happen to live in a metropolitan city (like New York, London, Beijing, Mumbai, etc.), your chances of spotting a shooting star are pretty low.
This is because large, developed cities like these have a lot of artificial lighting, and therefore have high levels of light pollution. Apart from that, the levels of air may also have a high dust content, which may further reduce your chances of seeing ‘regular’ stars, let alone a shooting star. Furthermore, even city lights, moonlight and clouds can cause a hindrance to spotting a shooting star.
Therefore, in order to see a shooting star, your best bet is to be at a place that has minimal artificial or natural lighting.
The Right Time
You can maximize your chances of seeing a shooting star by tracking the schedule of meteor showers for the year (you can check out the schedule for 2016 here). You are more likely to see a shooting star when the moon phase is close to a new moon, as the sky is at its darkest at that time of the month.
Furthermore, your chances of seeing a shooting star increase the later in night you set out to watch a meteor shower. At the time just before dawn, you are on the part of Earth that’s basically plowing into the comet dust that burns up and appears as meteors.
Seeing a shooting star can take time… a really long time. People spend their entire lives without ever being able to see a shooting star. Of course, not many people go about actively looking for a shooting star either, but if you do choose to set out on that journey, spotting a shooting star can be a really tough task to pull off.